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Indigenous, Together at the Sixth Summit of the Americas

Presidents of 30 countries who met in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia for the Sixth Summit of the Americas from April 14 – 15, including president Barack Obama, could not agree on fundamental issues like legalization of drugs, Cuba's participation in future summits or Argentina's recovery of the Malvinas’ islands. At the end of the event, there wasn’t a unanimous position.

But unlike those leaders, Indians of South, Central America and the Caribbean ended the meeting with a joint document that expresses the most important concerns they have in common. Yes, there was an agreement on issues as diverse as climate change, the economic development model, human rights and the American Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, among others.

In the joint statement, the Indians said that "the current regional economic model has lead to an intervention and illegitimate dispossession of their territories, as well as an over-exploitation of the natural resources they have preserved for thousands of years. The consequences are the genocide and extermination of the communities,” it pointed.

On climate change, the statement said that "Mother Earth as a living being needs the implementation of the indigenous contributions and ancient practices to mitigate and reduce the impacts of the phenomenon."

As for the American Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, emphasized on the need for "a serious and respectful commitment by the states to strengthen economically and politically the consultation process with authorities of Indigenous Peoples, to be able to adopt and implement in a year this legal instrument in order to and fulfill the duties and obligations which by nature are inherent to the States."

It also demanded respect from the States to their territories and to themselves, because they are facing, in the whole region, a campaign of militarization and criminalization.

Indigenous representatives met in Colombia during two events: The Social Forum, which was part of the official Summit and the Summit of the people, an alternative event organized by different social movements.

According to the leaders, their participation in the Summit was important because they need to call the world's attention about the threats many communities are facing. Diego Iván Escobar, member of the Piratapuyo community (located in the Colombian Amazon) and coordinator in Colombia for the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin – that reunites people from nine countries and more than 390 communities – said in an Interview with Indian Country Today Media Network, that they wanted to highlight the threats they face because of the megaprojects entering in their territories. "The pledge about previous consultations is not being respected," he assured.

"We got together to talk about how to communicate these situations. We worked on a proposal for a policy with which we can all live well and be recognized and respected. After these meetings we still have tasks pending so we will continue participating in these kinds of events, because we want to highlight our struggle and to publicize the problems of our territories and how that could affect the survival of our people: Indians are being displaced to the big cities," he said.

The territories of the Piratapuyo people are in a national natural reservation called Puinawai, with 1,092.500 hectares (2,699.6263 acres) in the border between Colombia and Brazil, where gold and coltan, or columbite-tantalite a dull metallic ore found in major quantities in the eastern areas of Congo, has been found. Both are being exploited by individuals without control. "This also is affecting our social systems because there is an internal conflict between those who want the mining and those who don’t. There are also illegal armed groups in our lands and no army defending us,” he added.

The people of the community Embera Dobida, located in the Colombian pacific are suffering similar situations. Alberto Achito, leader of the community, coincides with Escobar on the importance of the indigenous participation in the Summit because they could talk to some heads of state (Evo Morales, from Bolivia; Felipe Calderón, from Mexico; and Sebastián Piñera, from Chile) and foreign ministers about their problems.

"After the Summit this issue entered in the agenda of the Organization of American States (OAS). Several foreign ministers spoke about it," Achito said. General Secretary of the OAS, Jose Miguel Insulza, was also in the Social Forum.

Colombia’s president blah, blah, blah

At the closing speech of the Social Forum President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos spoke about the importance of respecting Indigenous Peoples and their lands. However, both Achito and Escobar dismissed his intervention because they believe that his speech differs from reality as mining and the killings of the Indians keep advancing.

Expectations from Bolivia

Eliseo Ceballos, one of 67 indigenous representatives from Bolivia, told ICTMN that his delegation came in particularly to insist on the decriminalization of coca leaf for medical uses ”because it ensures food security in Bolivia.” He said that the leaf is not only used for the traditional chewing (mambear), but it can also cure stomach pain and diabetes. "We need support for this request,” he said.

“The Summit helped to strengthen our organizations, but there is still much work to do”, he concluded.

Side Notes From the Summit:

  • Nearly 8,000 people from different social movements marched through the streets of Cartagena on Saturday April 14th at the close of the People's Summit demanding the attention of the presidents.

About 300 bracelets made by enforced displaced Indians from Colombia, were tied to the wrists of dignitaries and participants of the Social Forum. The idea was to ‘tie them up to mother earth.’ The bracelets had images of hummingbirds, symbol of this Summit.